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Liberal Zionist students battled Phila Jewish community to stage event critical of occupation– but ‘rooted in love’ of Israel

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The University of Pennsylvania chapter of J Street, the liberal Zionist organization, sponsored an appearance by Breaking the Silence, the Israeli dissident veterans group, at the school’s Hillel two nights back. That’s good news.

Ahead of the event, the J Street executive committee published an article in the school paper describing the five-month delay in scheduling the event due to pushback from the organized Jewish community in Philadelphia. The J Streeters were determined to have the event at the school Hillel and lobbied to achieve that end. And now they hail their ability to stage the event as a prospective victory for the two-state solution. 

It is interesting that the J Street chapter’s definition of “free speech” about Israel is confined to speech “rooted in love.” No code of open debate that I have ever participated in included that requirement! But the requirement shows how helpless the organized Jewish community is as presently constituted to reflect the views of, say, young Jews who advocate for the right of return for Palestinians, or who don’t believe in the need for a Jewish state, or who reject the idea of dialogue as a means of resolving the conflict. J Street cherishes dialogue as the answer. But how far would dialogue have gotten the Freedom Riders in the segregated south? Would dialogue have moved the slave-owners of Virginia? What is needed is pressure. 

Part of the account, from the Daily Pennsylvanian:  

As we were planning our event in early October, we were informed that the HGP [Hillel of Greater Philadelphia] board would not allow us to hold an event with Breaking the Silence in the Hillel building. A few board members apparently believed that the testimony of IDF soldiers was somehow “anti-Israel” or not suitable for an audience among Penn’s Jewish community. Dismayed and confused, we decided to postpone the event. It was important to us to fully hear out any objections, defend our mission and the speaker to the board and ensure that the event would eventually be held in Hillel, Penn’s center of Jewish life.

When little progress had been made by January, we decided to turn to our Hillel student leadership for support. We drafted a letter expressing why we felt it was important to bring Breaking the Silence to Hillel and invited them to sign a petition arguing for our right to do so. Those who signed did not necessarily do so because they agreed with the message of Breaking the Silence (many did not) but because they supported open and vigorous conversation within the Jewish community.

In all, we collected 27 signatures of Penn Hillel student leaders spanning a broad range of Jewish denominational affiliations, political views on Israel and types of involvement in the Jewish community. These signatures, including those from leaders of other pro-Israel organizations at Penn, finally pushed the HGP board to recognize that the Jewish student community is much too strong to succumb to a fear of ideas. We are ready to demand free speech in our building and to engage in challenging conversations about Israel. Indeed, open discourse and constructive criticism, rooted in love, are the only ways for us to achieve a brighter and safer future for the State of Israel. Like similar events being held by J Street U chapters on campuses across the country, our success in bringing Breaking the Silence to Hillel exemplifies the gradual mending of a still broken dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As far as the board of J Street U Penn is concerned, the most important thing about this event is the discussion that will follow. We encourage students of all political persuasions and religious beliefs, Jewish or not, to come and engage with us tonight at Hillel. Join us in exploring and debating one of the most hotly contested and geopolitically important issues of our time. It is our firm belief that nothing will change in the region without strong American investment in and support for peace and a two-state solution.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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13 Responses

  1. pabelmont on March 29, 2013, 11:56 am

    “What is needed is pressure.” Correct. And what with the USA being sidelined due to its oligarchic (big-money-based) political system, that pressure must come from outside. Unless, of course, the combined forces of JVP and JStreet and others can manage to out-weigh (i.e., out-spend, out-threaten) AIPAC et al. (Fat Chance department.)

  2. W.Jones on March 29, 2013, 12:10 pm

    Good point Phil. Abolitionists and desegregationists cared about America and whites, and that was important. But did they frame their main campaign slogans in terms of their love for them? Was the main organization on the issue called “The Pro-White (or) Pro-America, Anti-Segregation Party”?

    Wouldn’t a party dedicated to desegregation better call itself “Pro-White, Pro-Black, Anti-Segregation”?

    If the goal is really a two state solution, why put so much more emphasis on the state that already exists?

  3. DICKERSON3870 on March 29, 2013, 12:34 pm

    RE: “But how far would dialogue have gotten the Freedom Riders in the segregated south?” ~ Weiss

    ANSWER: Not even so far as halfway across the Edmund Pettus Bridge!

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Letter from Birmingham Jail]:

    [EXCERPT] The Letter from Birmingham Jail or Letter from Birmingham City Jail, also known as The Negro Is Your Brother, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader.

    ● Background

    King wrote the letter from the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was confined after being arrested for his part in the Birmingham campaign, a planned non-violent protest conducted by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference against racial segregation by Birmingham’s city government and downtown retailers. An editor at the New York Times Magazine, Harvey Shapiro, asked King to write his letter for publication in the magazine. The Times chose not to publish it. [1] He wrote the letter on the margins of a newspaper, which was the only paper available to him, then gave bits and pieces of the letter to his lawyers to take back to movement headquarters, where the Reverend Wyatt Walker began compiling and editing the literary jigsaw puzzle.

    ● Summary and themes

    King’s letter was a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963 titled, “A Call for Unity”. The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. They criticized Martin Luther King, calling him an “outsider” who causes trouble in the streets of Birmingham. To this, King referred to his belief that all communities and states were interrelated. He wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider…”[2] King expressed his remorse that the demonstrations were taking place in Birmingham but felt that the white power structure left the black community with no other choice.
    The clergymen also disapproved of the immense tension created by the demonstration.
    To this, King affirmed that he and his fellow demonstrators were using nonviolent direct action in order to cause tension that would force the wider community to face the issue head on. They hoped to create tension: a nonviolent tension that is needed for growth. King responded that without nonviolent forceful direct actions, true civil rights could never be achieved.
    The clergymen also disapproved of the timing of the demonstration. However, King believed that “this ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'”[2] King declared that they had waited for these God-given rights long enough and that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”[2]
    Against the clergymen’s assertion that the demonstration was against the law, he argued that not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
    King addressed the accusation that the civil rights movement was “extreme”, first disputing the label but then accepting it. He argues that Jesus and other heroes were extremists and writes: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”[3] His discussion of extremism implicitly responds to numerous “moderate” objections to the civil rights movement, such as President Eisenhower’s claim that he could not meet with civil rights leaders because doing so would require him to meet with the Ku Klux Klan.[4]
    The letter includes the famous statement “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, and also quotes the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, spoken in 1958 at the University of Cincinnati School of Law: “[J]ustice too long delayed is justice denied”. . .

    SOURCE –

    • DICKERSON3870 on March 29, 2013, 6:32 pm

      P.S. EXCERPTS FROM “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, By Rev. M.L.K. Jr., April 16, 1963


      [EXCERPTS] While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. . . But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. . .
      . . . You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. . . I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. . .
      One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. . .
      . . . My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
      We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
      We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. . .
      . . . I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
      I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
      In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. . . We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
      I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. . .” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. . . ~ Rev. M.L.K. Jr., April 16, 1963

  4. Avi_G. on March 29, 2013, 2:22 pm

    I still don’t understand how or why self-styled liberal American Zionists matter or are different than any other Zionist. My confusion lies in the simple fact that inherent to Zionism are certain realities, certain truths. The first and greatest one is that the acknowledgement and satisfactory resolution of the Palestinian refugee case, as well as the Palestinian right of return — will — in the Zionist view — spell the end of Israel.

    That, right there, should end whatever debate one wishes to have. That is to say that there is nothing to discuss past this point as this particular point is what this impasse currently boils down to. If the refugee case cannot be resolved, justly and legally, then there is no way forward. If the right of return cannot be equally granted to those Jews who “make aliyah“, as well as to Palestinians who were born in Palestine, then there is no way forward.

    And since there is no way forward given the parameters imposed by self-styled liberal Zionists, then indulging them is both a waste of time and a misguided effort.

    So whether members of Breaking the Silence appear or don’t appear in front of Jewish Americans, ultimately, makes no difference.


    Because even if they managed to bring pressure to bear and end the occupation — the odds of winning the lottery are greater — then the Palestinian right of return will remain a festering wound created by the very creation of Israel.

    And this entire point does not begin to take into account the Israeli self-styled liberal Zionists who have for decades done absolutely NOTHING to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, aside for paying the occasional lip-service.

    What of the non-Jewish second class citizens of Israel? Where do they fit into the cockamamie construct of a Jewish AND Democratic state? Every thinking human being knows by now the answers to all those, albeit rhetorical, questions.

    So was it ‘good’ that speakers from Breaking the Silence appeared and spoke? Yes. It was ‘good’. It was good in the sense that it gave those members the feeling — and false hope, too — that they have accomplished something.

  5. Avi_G. on March 29, 2013, 3:28 pm

    Ultimately, I should add, it is best to focus one’s efforts and energies on promoting human rights and equality for Palestinians. Everything else is a waste of time.

  6. on March 29, 2013, 10:58 pm

    Isn’t interest how the only two nations in the world that indulge in the use hostile of semantics like “anti” (Israel/American) or (Isreal/American) “hater” are the two nations that indulge the most in the hatred and the anti-democratic, anti-human/humane rhetoric. And this for the sole purpose of quashing dissent and criticism of their wrongdoing. And they gladly kill anything/anyone who doesn’t comply with their idea of themselves. What a pair! As an old saying goes “god makes them and the devil brings them together.” They must have been thinking about these two when they coined that one.

  7. talknic on March 29, 2013, 11:06 pm

    The illegal acquisition of non-Israeli territory by the Jewish & Zionist movement state is the most divisive and potentially destructive thing to ever happen to the Jewish people.

  8. yourstruly on March 30, 2013, 2:55 am

    love of israel

    & never mind it’s very existence is a crime against humanity


    but didn’t nazi germany bring out similar feelings in its followers

    intoxicated as they were by the vision of a jew-free homeland

    & who doesn’t know how that one turned out

    yet today there’s this zionist entity israel whose devotees are hooked on cleansing it of its native people, the palestinians

    history repeating itself?

    same ending?

    justice for the palestinian people?

    right on time

  9. clubroma on March 30, 2013, 4:48 am

    It is absolutely critical for the so-called ‘pro-Palestinian’ jewish population of the United States to become more vocal. Dare one say, perhaps a little aggressive.
    I must say that from the ‘outside America’ perspective, the situation does appear to be hopless. You are little more than a zionist opperative. Its extremely important, for world-wide jewry, that you make a stand. Because, for the jewish state, history is pointing in one direction. The histoty of the world tell us that the ‘freedom fighters’ always win.
    And when the ‘freedom fighters’ win, the level of humiliation and degredation will be returned. Please don’t whinge and moan when history comes ‘knocking on your door’.

  10. Eva Smagacz on March 30, 2013, 8:57 am

    A bit like Fords car, where you could choose, but had to love black (“any colour you like as long as it is black”) and indistinguishable really from polish democracy under communism, where you had plurality of parties, as long as (both of them) were approved by PZPR ( Polish United Workers Party) and professed their undying love for and unshaken faith in dictatorship of proletariat.

    • on March 30, 2013, 4:23 pm

      LOL! Sounds like Cuba’s Castro where you could vote (only after the 70s) for anyone you wanted to as long as it was Fidel Castro. Gotta love Communism!

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